While journalists are forbidden from reporting on almost everything that happens during bail hearings in Canada, there are all kinds of headlines coming out of the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing in South Africa. Here’s why.
In the South Africa, the justice system is based on Roman-Dutch law and there are no juries. Since there are no juries, a judge, sitting alongside two assessors, will preside over the Pistorius case when it eventually goes to trial. The thought is that a judge won’t be swayed by pre-trial reporting in the same way a jury would, so journalists are free to report as they wish.
South Africa used juries at one point, but that system was abolished in the 1930s due to racial concerns. Before that, only white people were allowed to sit on a jury, meaning a black defendant would never get a fair trail. There was a discussion about bringing a jury system back after the country gained independence, but “given South Africa’s 11 official languages, it would have been prohibitively expensive to hire interpreters,” reports The Guardian.
The death penalty was abolished in South Africa in 1995. If convicted of a charge of premeditated murder, Pistorius could face a life sentence of up to 25 years in jail.
To compare, bail hearings in Canada are open to the public, including journalists, but the only things that can be reported from the hearing are the judge’s decision and the conditions of bail. In Canada, publishing details of the case before it goes to trial are strictly forbidden.